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After a brief stint with the Nationals, what’s next for Trea Turner?

Trea Turner impressed in his brief call-up this weekend in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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CHICAGO — The Washington Nationals told Trea Turner his call up to the majors would last three days, the duration of Ryan Zimmerman’s paternity leave. Turner said he expected his call-up to last three days. So naturally, when the team optioned its top position-playing prospect back to Class AAA Syracuse on Monday, questions flew from fans and media, alike. Why not keep Turner, who went 3 for 3 with a walk in his first start and is among the International League leaders in batting average, in the big leagues? Nationals Manager Dusty Baker asked a different question: Why rush him?

“You don’t have to rush him. I’ve seen kids get rushed and get ruined,” Baker said. “Everybody wants to rush these guys. Just go play. That’s the main thing. Go play and stay healthy.”

Turner, like most elite prospects, packs intrigue in his potential. He is hitting .310 in Class AAA Syracuse with 18 stolen bases and an .857 OPS, about 10 points above the OPS he has maintained throughout his brief professional career — a career which, you will remember, began two years ago and has spanned two organizations and five levels.

Trea Turner sent back to Syracuse; Ryan Zimmerman reinstated

“I knew he could play. It wasn’t any secret. I wish I could’ve seen him get a few more plays on defense, but he wasn’t here for that. He was here to help us win, to help us play,” Baker said. “…But any time a young player can impress you with what he does, it stays in the forefront of your mind for next time. It’s hard to impress me for three days, but we knew Trea could play.”

Danny Espinosa is the Nationals shortstop right now and ranks as one of the league’s best at his position defensively. He is hitting .196 but has hit five home runs in his last 10 games. With Ben Revere struggling to find his way at the top of the order, the Nationals have lacked the contact and speed option they wanted there.

If Turner could translate even some of his AAA production to the majors, he could provide more offense at a so-far unproductive position. He could need time to adjusts to big league pitching, though; Friday’s small sample aside, Turner has started slowly as he has moved through each level of the minors, then figured each level out in turn. Instant production, or even similar production as a full-time rookie, is not a sure thing.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are in first place without him, and Revere’s track record suggests his average is due for some positive correction. As for Espinosa, the Nationals did not expect a high-average showing — just a defensive rock in the middle of the infield — and that is what they’re getting. One might argue Turner could help the Nationals in a part time role, bringing speed and contact and earning major league experience. One could also argue playing every day will serve him better. Either way, Turner will stay in AAA for now.

“I said: ‘The world is yours. All you’ve got to do is live and breathe and stay healthy, and the world’s going to be yours at some point in time. Go out there and polish your skills. Go down there and hit .330,’ ” Baker said Tuesday. “I asked him if he’s ever led the league anywhere. And he told me he hadn’t been around long enough to lead the league. So I said, ‘Well, you might as well start now.’ I wasn’t blowing smoke. I was telling him how I really felt. The world is his, and it’s going to be his some day.”

When will that day be? And where will he play, in whose place, when it comes? Baker does not seem concerned about that now.

“Let’s not rush things,” he said. “It’ll take care of itself.”

>>>>> Meanwhile, right-handed reliever Matt Belisle is still not active, still on rehab asssignment in the minor leagues. He first appeared for Classs A Potomac on May 23.

Belisle appeared in seven games in April before injuring his right calf bursting toward first base on a soft ground ball. He last appeared with Class AA Harrisburg on Sunday, and has not yet thrown on back-to-back days. The Nationals generally require their relievers to do that before returning, their final hurdle. But Belisle, who did not believe he needed a rehab stint at all since he was able to continue throwing after the injury, has now been in the minors for two weeks — and thrown more innings there than in the majors this season.

“Right now, he’s doing back-to-back days, and we’re trying to decide on whom,” Baker said. “We’ve got a tough decision.”

“Deciding on whom,” in this case, means deciding on which pitcher will be the odd man out if and when Belisle returns. Sammy Solis, who was called up when Belisle went down, has impressed Baker since spring training. The Nationals manager has often pointed out the advantages to having a third left-hander in the bullpen. Solis threw three scoreless innings of relief in Sunday’s win, a sparkling outing that dropped his ERA to 1.59 in 17 big league innings this season. Is his performance making this decision particularly tough for Baker?

“I didn’t say Solis. I said we got a tough decision,” said Baker, implying that perhaps the decision was not between Belisle and the young lefty, but perhaps others, too. “It’s a situation where it’s gonna become unfair to him to stay down there too long. As an organization, we’ve got to make a decision. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. And he’s near the end of his rehab assignment.”

Blake Treinen and Felipe Rivero have options left. Rivero is struggling against the left-handed hitters his high-90s fastball is supposed to stifle. Baker has used Treinen more in middle relief recently than the later innings, where he used him early on. Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley, Yusmeiro Petit and Jonathan Papelbon are virtually locked into their spots, and Kelley has looked good enough for Baker to rely on him in the eighth inning. It seems one of Treinen, Rivero, Solis or Belisle will find themselves in a different bullpen in the weeks to come.

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